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We're Back! (With a Helping of Good Stress)

So...we're back! We flew back to the UK last week, actually, but as I've learned since my first trip with the kids to America last year, jet lag as a childless adult is NOTHING to the experience of jetlag with two little kids who are each experiencing their own jetlag, too! Ahhh, no fun whatsoever...but as of last night, I think both kids are finally back on their UK sleep-schedule, just in time for school to start. Whew! So, now, I can (I hope) finally catch up on my sleep, too. (Knock on wood!)

It's grey and rainy here in Wales - I went through climate shock last week as I adjusted from wearing a skirt, T-shirt and sandals every day to wrapping up in thick cardigans and jeans. But the mountains are gorgeous, green and forested, rising all around our house. I can almost imagine dragons sleeping under them! And our own Maya-dog is sleeping in her bed downstairs as I type this now. All in all, it feels really good to be home...especially since I know I'll be back in America next summer. It's the right balance for our family right now.

And speaking of balancing acts...this year it looks like I'll be trying something I haven't tried for a long time, which is writing two books at once (one adult book and one MG). Please cross your fingers for me! Right now I've only written the openings of each of them, and that's as far as I've gotten, because one of them needs a ton more research before I can really settle into it, and the other one needs a lot more planning time and creative play to work out exactly the right voice and story for the heroine...but tentatively - very tentatively! - it looks like I'm going to be trying to write them both over the next year or so. We'll see! I'm nervous but excited about them both, so I don't want to drop either one of them.

It's been a funny last month in terms of writing. I had great plans to do lots and lots of writing over the summer, and I really did spend the first two weeks writing and revising with all my might to hit a freelance deadline...but then, over the last four weeks of our summer holiday, I only ended up writing down four different story openings (one short story, one Kat novella, and two novels, all of them pieces I'd like to pursue at some point) without really settling into any of them. Part of it, honestly, comes down to the fact that I'd been driving myself SO hard for so many months beforehand, filling up every free moment with my writing goals. As both Patrick and another one of my smart writer-friends pointed out, creative breaks are actually NECESSARY sometimes, not just optional, to refill the well! So there is that. The truth is, I really did need a break, and it was probably good for me as a writer to take one. (...At least inasmuch as 4 weeks full of childcare can be called "a break." But - you know what I mean!)

And then there's also the fact that, behind the scenes, a lot of publishing decisions that are going to significantly affect my career are being made right now in London and New York. So far, every single bit of news I've gotten has been amazing, and I'm really excited about all of it...but nothing's absolutely settled yet, which is why I'm not posting any of that news here. And that's a really jittery, unsettling feeling to experience, even when all the news is good! (As that same smart writer-friend pointed out in an email to me, "Good stress is still stress! It still has the same result.") So, it's been hard to settle into writing while I'm waiting for firm decisions and resolution all round.

Anyway! In the meantime, I've been doing a lot of reading. I spent all of my free time on our international plane ride reading my new hardcover copy of Aliette de Bodard's The House of Shattered Wings, which was AMAZING. It's a postapocalyptic fantasy novel for adults set in Paris, and I'd read an early draft a year or so ago, which I loved...but the final, published version just blew me away. You can read my full Goodreads review here.



And when we got to Wales, I found a copy of Felicia Day's fun, funny, and genuinely wonderful memoir, You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) waiting for me (I had won it in a giveaway), and I was genuinely shocked by just how much I loved it. (You can see my Goodreads review for that one, too!)

Tomorrow, school starts again, here in Wales. Normal life is about to begin again. And yes, I am going to dive back into being a professional writer as well as a mom again...even if it's a bit of a jittery adjustment along the way! ;)

What about you guys? What are your favorite reads from this summer? And if you had big goals at the beginning of the summer, like I did...did yours get amended, too? Or did you cheer your way to the end? I'd love to know!

Last Week, Family Love, and a Call for Votes

It's our last week in America. Wahhh! But it's been a really good week so far. Yesterday morning I got to meet up with an old friend in the park where we both played as kids, and we shared a picnic with all of our children. The day before yesterday, I celebrated a whole bunch of really wonderful professional news (which I hope to be able to share here sometime in the next few months!) by eating ice cream with my family, then going out to dinner with my oldest friend at a really great Mexican restaurant. We sat in an outdoor booth on the rooftop while sparrows flew around the tables, and talked about everything.

And oh, thank goodness, I finally got some new author photos, with a LOT of family help. Can I say just how grateful I've been for all of my wonderful sisters-in-law over the years? My last author photos were taken by my sister-in-law Gail (a former professional photographer, now anthropologist), back in Leeds six years ago, and she went make-up shopping with me first, loaned me her straightening iron for my hair, and generally talked me through the whole process of getting ready for a professional photo.

This time, it was even more of a full family process, because my mom (an amazing photographer who has had photos on magazine covers) took the photos for me, and my sister-in-law Jenn not only went make-up shopping with me to help me pick out what I needed (and loaned me her straightening iron! thank goodness my sisters-in-law are all more prepared than I am), but also finally put on my eyeshadow for me when I gave up, since I am totally clueless in the whole cosmetics department.

99% of the time, I go without makeup and feel good about it. But every so often, I really want to wear it, and I am so glad to have fabulous, supportive women in my life who are willing to step in and help me when I need it! And oh, is the whole process of photo-taking so much more fun when I'm hanging out with people I love and laughing through the process. I tend to get really self-conscious about having photos taken, but getting them taken with Mom and Jenn was just perfect.

If you read this before the end of August 19th, I'll still be trying to narrow down my choices - I need to send two photos to the publishers of my upcoming adult novel, and I'm trying to decide among three finalists:

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If you have any opinions, voting is not only allowed, it is hugely encouraged! I would love any help, and people are already voting over on my Facebook page. (But if you read this after the 19th, I will have already sent off the photos, so it'll be too late.)

Right now, I'm figuring out the stories of two different novels, in different genres, that I want to write...I'm trying desperately to read as many library books as I can before I have to return them all in the next few days...and I'm trying to fit in as much hanging out with old friends and family as I possibly can, while knowing that it will never feel like enough.

But I'm so glad to be here!

Awful Realizations and New Favorites

I've reached that awful stage that comes after the midpoint of every trip, where I realize that there is NO WAY to meet up with everyone I want to see while I'm here, to read all the library books I want to read*, to go all the places I want to go...oh well! I'm still having a great time, and it's gotten a whole lot better since Toddler X has started (knock on wood!) sleeping through the night again. (Oh, did we have a bad couple of weeks with that beforehand...)

Here's this week's latest library find, Daniel José Older's Shadowshaper, a YA fantasy novel which is making me really happy so far:



I'm absolutely loving the voice, and the magic and the characters and the (gorgeously evoked) setting all work together just wonderfully. It's so much fun!

I've also been reading my way through Ursula Vernon's wonderful Dragonbreath series with my six-year-old, who LOVES those books! Hugely recommended for any 6- to 8-year-olds you know - and they're fun for adults, too! We've read the first 7 (out of 11) in the last couple of weeks and can't wait to get the last 4. They're silly and funny and clever and joyous and can certainly be read out of order. My personal favorite so far is Book 4, Lair of the Bat Monster, and my personal least favorite is Book 2, Attack of the Ninja Frogs, but honestly, they're all fun, and my 6-year-old loves them ALL.



I also started reading Ursula Vernon's Nurk: The Strange, Surprising Adventures of a (Somewhat) Brave Shrew this morning, and I LOVED the opening - but then I forced myself to stop and set it aside so that I can read it with my six-year-old, who will certainly love it, too. And since Vernon's MG book for older kids, Castle Hangnail, is one of my very favorite MG fantasies of the last few years, I think we can officially say that she has become a favorite author in this household! :)

What about you guys? Have you discovered any new favorite authors in the past year?
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*Yes, this is a serious issue! And it's not just for fun, either. Since, at the moment, I'm primarily publishing my books in North America, it's really important to me to keep up with new American books in my genres, and I can't afford to buy them all (or even most of them). So, taking this opportunity, every year, to read as many as possible at my wonderful hometown library is REALLY vital! (But it's really fun, too.)

PS: You can leave comments here or on my website blog.

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Cookies and Books

Another quiet, lovely week over here. I've been taking my kids to the swimming pool, the park and the library, eating wonderful chocolate chip cookies made by my dad, and of course doing my writing. I sent off my latest freelance audition on Monday - please wish me luck! - and since then, I haven't had any deadlines to worry about. I've been doing steady writing anyway, of course, but I haven't pushed myself too hard when it comes to hitting high wordcounts at speed.

Yesterday, I had a really delicious breakfast out (French toast with strawberry-infused cream cheese! Mmmm!) with one of my oldest friends and we got to have our first non-Skyped bookclub meeting in ages. Our unanimous conclusion was that Nicole Burstein's Othergirl is really fun and gets the dynamics of high school friendships just right!



Next, we're going to be reading Cherie Priest's I am Princess X, which looks fabulous.



Have any of you guys read it yet? I picked up my copy late yesterday morning, and I can't wait to dive in as soon as I finish the book I'm reading right now, Ilona Andrews's Magic Shifts, which is really fun so far. I bounced off the first book in this series, but then someone recommended I try starting again with Book 3, Magic Strikes, and that REALLY worked for me. I've been a huge fan of the series ever since!



I also just finished one of my favorite birthday presents, Elizabeth Hand's creepy, atmospheric fantasy novel (for adults) Wylding Hall. If you like gothic novels, British folk-rock, or just fantasy that feels genuinely magical, you should really try it out. Elizabeth Hand has been one of the fantasy authors I've most admired for about 20 years now, but this turned out to be by far my very favorite novel she's ever written.



What about you guys? Do you have any reading recommendations this week?

Quick note: I finally set up a blog on my temporary website, hooray! So if you're not a LiveJournal user, you'll probably find it easier to comment on the entry over there.

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Reading happiness

So, our first week back in my hometown was somewhat disrupted by a horrible feverish Death Cold, but now that the fever's over, this has gone back to being a really nice visit. The kids have been visiting with the local wildlife:


(Photo by MrD!)

I've made it back to the wonderful local library:



AND I made my first visit of the year to my hometown independent bookstore, which is one of my favorite bookstores in the world:



I also fell head over heels in love with a new book, Megan Frazer Blakemore's The Friendship Riddle, which has an awesomely geeky MG heroine (with whom, yes, I did identify a LOT), wonderful characters, and a really fun, absorbing story. You can read my full, gushing Goodreads review here, but the takeaway is: this is one of my favorite books of the year so far, in any genre. Read it! :)



What about you guys? What have you been reading lately?

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Coming Home

On Monday morning, Patrick, MrD, Toddler X and I all piled into a taxi that drove us from the front door of our house in Wales to the departures gate at London's Heathrow airport (since we made one of the best discoveries ever this year: hiring a taxi to the airport, shockingly, actually costs exactly the same amount as buying train tickets, but with no time spent dragging heavy suitcases around various connecting train stations in the middle!), and about 14 hours later, we finally landed in America. A few hours after that, we were home.

As my brother Ben drove us into town, turning down those familiar, tree-lined streets, I felt myself finally, finally relax for the first time in days. I've lived in a lot of places, and I've also loved a lot of them - I love where we live now! - but there's something about coming back to my hometown that makes my whole body resonate with the message: HOME. I am really, really happy to be here.

And as you can see, of course my beloved hometown library was one of my first stops! :)

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Surprising no one, I absolutely adored Hark! A Vagrant. I can't remember the last time I laughed so much over any comics, and I have been forcing Patrick to read more and more of them, because I HAVE to share! I'm recommending it to just about everyone I know, and I definitely want to get a copy to keep one day.

Also, on a totally different note, I'm really enjoying The Haunting of Maddy Clare, which I just started. I'm about four chapters in, and so far it's dreamy, beautifully-written, romantic gothic fiction (which I'm guessing will turn pretty creepy by the end), which I picked up on Susanna Kearsley's recommendation. So far, I'm really glad I did!

Of course, this isn't really a holiday for me and Patrick, though, since deadlines and work don't disappear even for freelancers over the kids' long summer holidays. Today it was time for me to get back to work after taking the first couple of days to rest and recover and hang out with the kids. So I got back to Very Serious Work today by getting started on a (very cool) freelance project with a tight deadline, setting myself an important word count and high targets...

...but I got to do my writing while sitting across a table from Patrick (who had his own goals/deadlines) in the coffee shop closest to my parents' house, which I've loved for over twenty years now, and once I'd hit my targets for the day, I came home to snuggle with my two little boys in my childhood bed and play with my brother's puppy.

So, really. It is awfully nice to be home. :)

Unfortunate Occurrences and Awesome Books

Oof. So, I found out last week that my website had been hacked. ACK! And unfortunately, the only way to deal with it was to delete the site entirely.

This was really, really not a good discovery.

Luckily, Patrick was already in the middle of designing a new website for me. Unluckily, that new site design might not be ready for another month or two. In the meantime, I've set up a quick holding page to tide over any readers who come looking for more info, but...well, it was a depressing thing to happen, to say the least.

(My one consolation was that it wasn't a personally malevolent hack, at least - whoever hacked the site just added thousands and thousands of spammy pages trying to sell fake knockoff handbags - but it was still a total pain. I really ought to be building a nice temporary site while Patrick works on the fabulous real replacement site, but with two big deadlines in the next three weeks, I just don't have the time to do anything about it right now, which is deeply frustrating.)

But! On the plus side, my lovely editor at Pyr let me know last week that she liked my edits, and Masks and Shadows has been sent off to production for ARCs! Woot!

Also, I've been doing some fabulous reading. Lois McMaster Bujold's World of Five Gods series (The Curse of Chalion, Paladin of Souls, and The Hallowed Hunt) is one of my favorite fantasy series ever, and she's just published a new novella in the series, Penric's Demon. You can read my full Goodreads review, but the main takeaway is: it was deliciously fun! I loved sweet, thoughtful Penric and his snarky, dangerous demon and would happily read many, many more of their adventures.

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Now I'm reading a really fascinating, absorbing nonfiction book, Pre-Raphaelites in Love (by Gay Daly), which is a sort of group biography of the Pre-Raphaelite painters and their romantic partners (who were often their models). I like group biographies - Daisy Hay's Young Romantics was another great book in a similar vein that I read a few years ago, about the Romantic poets and their relationships, and Katie Roiphe's Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Portraits of Married Life in London Literary Circles 1910-1939 was also fun, although not as meaty as the Daly or Hay books. And of course I thought of those other two books because - wow, it's really striking how many dynamics turn out to be the same in any group of artists in any field. (...Which very definitely includes the composers I hung out with in the late 1990s and the communities of writers that I know now!)

Pre-Raphaelites in Love is a wonderful portrait of a community, and it's written really compellingly. I'd never known much about any of the Pre-Raphaelites or their models before, but now I really want to read a full biography of Lizzie Siddel, among others. And it's full of fascinating characters throughout, even when they're not the main protagonists of her story. For instance, talking about Lizzie, she says:

"Anna Mary [Howitt], a gifted and serious painter, introduced Lizzie to her two closest friends, Barbara Leigh-Smith and Bessie Parkes. These three formed a remarkable trio, especially for the nineteenth century. As young women they traveled alone; they attended the first college for women, Bedford College in Regent's Park; they founded a successful feminist newspaper; and they opened an employment agency for women. They started an elementary school, organizing it along radical lines, with no religion, no punishment, and no separation of sexes in the classroom; the children loved it and learned a great deal. Later Barbara helped to found Girton College, the first women's college at Cambridge, selling her collection of paintings to endow it.

When they met Lizzie, the three friends had just undertaken a daring political project, lobbying Parliament to pass the Married Women's Property Act, lobbying Parliament to pass the Married Women's Property Act, a bill intended to give wives a measure of control over their own money. Despite their youth and sex, which most men assumed rendered them political idiots, they planned their campaign effectively...

They also made time to help Lizzie. Barbara took charge, as she generally did - Anna Mary once painted her as the warrior queen Boadicea..."


Now, come on. Don't they sound like AWESOME characters for a historical YA novel? I would LOVE to read that book!

What about you guys? What are you reading now?

Racing towards the end of term

Whew! I sent off the edited version of Masks and Shadows to my editor just on time last week, I revised my YA novelette this weekend, and today I'm diving back into my MG dragons-and-chocolate novel...because MrD has only 10 days left of school before his summer holidays, and I am desperate to finish All The Things beforehand!

(Of course, I'll be working through his summer holidays, too - one of the many, many advantages of staying with my family over the kids' summer holidays is that it makes it possible for Patrick and I to actually get our work done through the holidays - but I really want to spend my time writing new things while we're there, and also, it'll be my only chance to get a bunch of historical research done in the fabulous university library in my hometown. Oh, how I miss living near a university library! I know, I've moaned about that before. But for a historical novelist, research libraries make such a difference - and lately, all the Welsh university libraries have been refusing to fulfill any inter-library loan requests made through public libraries, which is deeply frustrating.)

It hasn't been All Work, All the Time here, though - we had visiting family in town over the weekend, which was wonderful, so the last couple of days were full of good food, lots of time spent hanging out in a relative's sunny garden, and far too much ice cream for my own good.

And the romantic YA gothic fantasy novelette was a perfect transitional revision for me, bridging the gap between Masks and Shadows - which has this tone:


See Stephanie's board Masks and Shadows on Pinterest.

and The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart - which is, as you can see, quite different! ;)


See Stephanie Burgis's board The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart (MG w-i-p) on Pinterest.


I love both of my novels, and both strands of my career - the wildly romantic adult historical fantasies and the fun, funny MG fantasy adventures. But I couldn't have moved straight from one to the other or my head might just have exploded! "House of Secrets" was the perfect palate-cleanser in-between.

Now back to work!

(As soon as I make a hot chocolate, that is. But hey, considering the book that I'm working on right now, it practically counts as research...right?)

Five Things on a Monday

1. I just finished reading Kate Milford's book Greenglass House, which was WONDERFUL - warm and charming and mysterious and fun. You can read my Goodreads review here.



2. Normally, when I'm riding the bus to town, I don't take much notice of all the named houses I pass. But the other day, I happened to look out the window just in time to see a house called "Green Dragon Cottage" - and my whole body was seized by one urge: WANT!!!!! (It was a nice-looking house, too, which was a nice plus...but really, that wasn't the point. I'd live in almost any house that had that name!)

3. It may be getting a bit dangerous for me and Patrick to keep on watching the TV show "Grand Designs" together. We now have elaborate plans for the eventual mansion we will (naturally) one day build for ourselves, having vigorously debated a million different specific details (but of course being in total agreement on the needs for [a] a full library, complete with comfortable couches, and [b] a dragon mosaic on the ground floor). In fact, we have everything sorted out...except for how, exactly, we would ever afford this. Hrm. Well, maybe watching a few more episodes will help pin that final little detail down! ;)

4. I really liked the band Civil Wars, and now Joy Williams (one half of that band) has just released a new album of her own, Venus, which you can listen to in full on the NPR website this week. I'm listening to it now, as I type, and I'm really, really liking it so far! It's a cool mix of pop, American folk, and more, with a really big, warm sound.

5. My edits for Masks and Shadows are due in two days. So I'm going to end this blog entry now, to get back to them!
It's been a quiet few days over here - I've mostly been working on edits, taking the kids to play with friends over the weekend, and watching episodes of Grand Designs with Patrick (oh how I fantasize over that house in Brittany! if only someone ELSE would build it for us)...

...but today I have some really, really nice professional news to share!

I have been just ridiculously lucky with the agents I've gotten to work with in my career, and I could not be happier to announce now that I've just (today!) signed on with Molly Ker Hawn at The Bent Agency. She'll be representing all of my books from now on, starting with my new MG novel, The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart. I am so happy and excited about this! I'll be diving back into another round of revisions on TDwaCH as soon as I've finished my edits on Masks and Shadows - and, obviously, I will be stocking up on a LOT of chocolate to munch as I do it! ;)

I am so happy to get the chance to work with Molly, and this is really, really big news for me. :)

In other book-related news, I'm reading Kelly Jones's Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer, which is totally adorable. (I looove the heroine's voice and the quirky humor. Chickens with superpowers! So much fun.)



And the Clarion West write-a-thon just began yesterday. Woot! You can check out my goals here. (If you can also chip in anything at all in support, that would be fabulous - all of the money raised by the write-a-thon goes toward Clarion West's scholarship fund, giving new writers without financial resources the chance to attend the workshop. I could never have attended Clarion West without the generous scholarship I was granted, back in 2001, and it truly was the best thing I ever did for my writing - so, in other words, raising money for other writers to get that opportunity means a lot to me!)

Most of all, though, right now, I'm just really happy to be starting this new chapter of my career, and I'm excited to see where it goes. :)
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PS: And it's been a great day for literary dragons of all types in our household - because look what just arrived in the mail for Patrick! :)

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